Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Why business blogs are important

More and more companies starts blogging, but why do they do it - what are the benefits? This article gives several arguments and ideas - is blogging the right choice for your company too?

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Full Nelson Problem Solving

If I may, I'd like to begin with a disclaimer. If any of you happen to be one of the "special" people in the world - those who do not have any problems, never have had a problem, and fully expect to never need to solve a problem, then I fear you may find yourself quite confused and wondering what strange language I am speaking.
If, however, you find yourself somewhere within the immense range of "normal", you have and will certainly run into a problem here and there. In fact, you probably find yourself wrestling with some sort of problem every day. You sometimes may even feel like your problems have a choke-hold on you.

I've titled these thoughts "Full Nelson Problem Solving" because I'd like to show you some maneuvers that will allow you to gain the advantage over the opponent and be able to win the match.
Problems come in all shapes and sizes. There are technical problems, communication and interpersonal problems, problems of logic and creativity. You'll be faced with solving your own problems as well as the problems of others. Some problems are directly given birth to by your own inexperience or carelessness while others are wrapped up nicely and dropped into your lap by some mad stork from hell.

I'm sad to say that there is no single step-by-step process guaranteeing that you will solve every problem you encounter - there are many problems for which we, the earthbound, have no answer for. What is needed, rather, are some basic approaches to problem solving that will allow us to adapt our thinking skills uniquely to each problem we face.
If Einstein was correct in his assertion that "problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them," then what sort of new approaches will be needed?

I will suggest five:

  • Patient Comprehension
  • Interviewing the Problem
  • Research
  • Visualize the Problem Solved
  • Restructure the Problem Statement

First, begin by deciding you will practice patience while trying to understand the problem. The average problem will create some stress for us and make us anxious to solve it. Our minds leap too quickly to the first conceived solution and we end up sticking a Band-Aid on a gushing wound and calling it good. One trick to having an advantage while wrestling is to study your opponent's moves and know their weaknesses. Resist the urge to begin with a pin-down, instead try to begin with creating a clear statement of the problem.

Next is the interview. Try to personify the problem you are facing. Sit down for a cup of coffee with it and find out what makes it tick. Pretend you are a journalist getting the next big scoop and pose questions to your problem.

  1. What makes you think you really are a problem?
  2. When exactly did you arrive?
  3. Where are you having the most impact? Where were you before now? Where are you going?
  4. How did you get here? How can I persuade you to go away?
  5. Who are you happening to?
  6. Why are you happening?

If journalism isn't your thing, put on an old raincoat and pretend you are the latest reincarnation of Lt. Columbo. Ask your problem - "Sir...you don't mind if I ask you a personal question, do you? ... What did you pay for those shoes?"
Try to be creative, or even absurd with your questions. Allow the answers at this stage to be just as off the wall.

Remember, not all problems are well-intentioned - many will lie to you. This is where your research duties begin. Gather whatever resources you may have available to you; books, the Internet, trusted friends or counselors, past experience and so on. Then begin to separate the true answers from the false or misleading ones. Chances are good that someone else has already wrestled with the very same problem you are, and won.

Now set aside some quiet time. Light some incense, brew-up some exotic tea and settle into your favorite meditative stance. It's time to visualize the solved state. Don't consider your attack plan at this point; just imagine the outcome after the perfect solution, whatever it might have been, was successfully implemented. What does it look like? How does it feel? Have any other sideline problems also been resolved? Have others been created?

By this time, you should have the facts at hand and you have a clear vision of what the end result should. There is one more step before attempting to develop a solution - restate the problem. The best way to state a problem is in the form of a question. Instead of "my problem is that my child won't go to sleep at night", try stating it as "How can I stop my child from getting out of bed every five minutes?"

Remember this too - positive questions are more powerful than negatives ones. "How can I encourage my child to want to fall asleep at night?" will lead to better solutions. Instead of "How can I stop a painful thing?" ask "How can I create a pleasant thing?"

Develop several slightly different restatements of the problem because each one will open up new avenues of thought and lead you into creative and effective solutions.

The main point, in summary, is this; most of us assume that problem solving is merely a process of applying logic and hard thinking. While it is certainly not less than this, when you learn to apply your imagination and emotional skills to the problem solving process you will soon have your problems down on their knees with a firm grip around their neck. You are in control instead of being pinned down and slapping the floor for mercy.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Meeting Your Customers Online Support Expectations

Many of your customers have already interacted with some sort of online support system and most have come to expect a certain degree of usability and service-related information from a company's website. Understanding and meeting these expectations will go a long way towards establishing your company's credibility and confirming your ability to help your customers.

Internet users have begun to consider information found on the web at least as important as other media, such as newspapers, magazines and books. In fact, as far back as 2002 when the University of California at Los Angeles performed its third annual nationwide survey on the Internet, nearly 61 percent of Internet users rated the web as a "very" or "extremely" important source of information.
Compare with the following sources rated in that survey:

  • Newspapers: 58%

  • Television: 50%

  • Radio: 40%

  • Magazines: 29%

Since your customer's attitude towards valuable sources of information has shifted, how has your support department responded? Do you provide an easy to access FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)? How about a searchable knowledge base? Are the manuals for your product or service available for download from your website?
When your customer visits your website looking for these common support features, what will their impression of your service department be if they do not find them? Will you lose credibility? Almost certainly. Will your Customer Service rating drop even though they haven't even picked up a phone?

Start by learning what your customer's expectations are. Perform a survey asking how your website might better serve their support needs, what features are they most likely to use often. Visit the web sites of your competitors - are their customers receiving better service online than yours?

Next, investigate the technologies available to you. There are many software solutions out there for providing online knowledge bases ranging from very expensive to open source projects. If you have an internal IT or web development department capable of developing a custom solution, find out how large an effort it would require. Get a price tag.

Do some math. Determine how much one lost customer is worth. If meeting your customers online support expectations is going to cost your company $5,000 and one lost customer is worth an average $1,200, thatmeans you can only lose 4 customers as a result of missing service features before it is more expensive to not invest the $5,000 in the effort.

Create the content. Most support centers will have their support personnel create one or more knowledge base solutions or articles per week as a regular part of their job description. A senior support resource will often review the content for technical accuracy. The information should also be reviewed for grammar, spelling and style before it is published.

The Internet continually enables companies to greatly improve their customer service. With this trend, your customer's expectations will also continually increase. Keep up and keep your customers.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Top Ten Telephone Basics

I ran across a helpful article for service & support front liners. Shep Hyken details ten basic skills that can not only make your customers happier, they will make your job easier. In support, nearly everyone who calls in is having a bad day - they wouldn't be calling you otherwise right? Early on, I had a habit of starting support calls with the simple question "How are you today John?" after getting the callers name. The answer was rarely positive. I'd get responses ranging from...
"I've been better."
"I'd be a whole lot better is this blasted product of yours wasn't such a pain in my ass!"
So I stopped asking "How are you".
Shep suggests starting with enthusiasm. He clarifys this by warning not to go overboard - I picture the cold callers in the Sales department - but be positive from beginning to end. Yes, you don't need another problem added to your already belt-bursting case load, but the person on the other end certainly doesn't need your attitude added to their load of problems!

The second point is to smile. Okay - this sounds cheesy I know, but most phone skills trainers suggest that smiling does something to change your voice and tone. Maybe someday I'll ask a scientist type to verify this fact, but for now, you might as well assume it is true. We all try to picture the face of the person on the other end of the phone line - how often do you imagine a scowl?

His third point basically builds on the first two - your voice will reveal you over the phone. Make the effort to have a supporting attitude before picking up the phone. I can testify that when they come in flaming, it is far easier to fix their problem and get them off the phone if you first extinguish them with a little positive attitude and understanding.

Read the rest of Shep's basics and let me know if you find anything helpful.

Friday, May 05, 2006

meta support

Beyond; transcending; more comprehensive:
At a higher state of development:

The act or an instance of helping:
A means or device that keeps something erect, stable, or secure

Since this is my first post, I guess a "Welcome to Meta-Support" is obligatory.
This site is about support and customer service. I have been working in tech support departments since the late 90's (no I will not fix your computer) and I still can't believe the things I run into - and the crappy service get everywhere else. C'mon - it's not that hard to pretend to be helpful is it?
Anyway, I've got some ideas and opinions about the whole support thing and, lucky you, I'm considering making them public. I plan more than just "tech support" rants - but I may not be able to avoid them all the time - I believe a little foresight and planning is where quality support and service begins - and then making sure that policies and procedures are in place to allow the support rep to do their job.